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Blu-ray Review: It’s a Wonderful Life: Platinum Anniversary Edition

October 12, 2016

By John Corrado

its-a-wonderful-life-platinum-anniversary-edition-blu-rayCelebrating its 70th anniversary this year, the 1946 classic It’s a Wonderful Life is being rereleased in a new Platinum Anniversary Edition on Blu-ray.  The film follows the life of George Bailey (James Stewart), a man faced with suicidal desperation on Christmas Eve who is visited by Clarence (Henry Travers), a kind angel wanting to get his wings, who helps him realize all the ways his life has touched others.

Frank Capra’s personal favourite of all his films, and featuring one of James Stewart’s best performances, It’s a Wonderful Life is a complete package of acting and dramatic storytelling that still holds up beautifully.  Although it was considered a box office flop when it first came out, due to its steep production costs, the film found new life on TV in the decades that followed, and the rest is history.

Watching the film has now become a beloved holiday tradition in countless households every year, and for good reason.  Filled with numerous iconic moments, this is a grand work that aims to encapsulate the importance of a single life and how it affects others, and it succeeds at doing so, offering a rich tapestry of characters and scenes that are not only a joy to revisit, but also get better with age.  It remains a definitive Christmas film that is indicative of the season for the way it deals with dark themes faced by real people around the holidays, matched by a contemplative and deeply spiritual feel good message.

This is the quintessential Frank Capra film, a work that celebrates human decency and doesn’t shy away from showing the realities and financial struggles of America at the time, while also reaching a moving and genuinely uplifting finale.  The screenplay offers a masterclass in narrative structure, working on multiple levels and taking us through all the defining moments of George Bailey’s life in the first half, in a way that perfectly sets up and gives added meaning to everything that unfolds in the last act.   The result is a poignant and compassionate portrait of a man slowly descending into depression, that is made all the more resonant for showing his dashed dreams and acts of selflessness along the way.

James Stewart carries the film in an incredible showcase of his range as an actor, in his first film role after serving a stint in the army during WWII, making the central character’s emotional arc both believable and powerful.  Through a myriad of famous supporting roles, the film seamlessly weaves in subplots involving the Bailey family business, George Bailey’s relationship with his high school sweetheart (Donna Reed), and a corrupt banker Mr. Potter (Lionel Barrymore) threatening to take over their idyllic town of Bedford Falls, characters that all work to enhance the central narrative.

With a story that could be seen as a companion piece of sorts to the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life is a true holiday classic that has a way of connecting to audiences like few other films, with nearly everyone who watches it finding something to relate to.  There are some movies that transcend time, and this is absolutely one of them, a work that is still just as thematically rich and emotionally resonant as it ever was, even after seventy years and countless viewings.  I’m not ashamed to count It’s a Wonderful Life as one of my all-time favourites, and those who don’t already have a copy of it on Blu-ray shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this handsome looking new edition.

The Blu-ray also includes the nicely done featurette The Making Of It’s a Wonderful Life, a TV special from 1990 hosted by Tom Bosley that takes us through the film’s evolution from a short story that the author sent around as a Christmas card, to the classic that it’s now regarded as.  There’s also the original theatrical trailer for the film, and a second disc that houses the colourized version.  The package also comes with six replica lobby cards and newspaper ads, which are a very nice addition to the set.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a Paramount release.  It’s 130 minutes and rated G.

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